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film rating

FLYING HIGH

STILL LANDING JOKES 40 YEARS AFTER TAKE-OFF

RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW
LATEST REVIEWS
By Joel Kalkopf
28th June 2020

Surely it can't be 40 years since 'Flying High' was released? Oh yes, it has been - and don't call me Shirley. If its hard-hitting journalism you're after, feel free to explore my back catalogue of articles, but if you're here to celebrate one of the funniest films ever created, then you've come to the right place. Full of visual gags, puns, word play, comedic blocking and unexpected twists, 'Flying High' will have you in stitches of laughter, even after 40 years on the screen. Trying not to sound like an old man looking back on his life, they just don't make them like they used to.

A parody of the classic disaster movies such as 'The Poseidon Adventure', 'Zero Hour!' and the closely connected 'Airport', 'Flying High' (or 'Airplane!', for those more inclined) smacks the audience in the face with gag after gag, not too dissimilar to the line of passengers waiting to have their turn to tell a distressed passenger to "get a hold of yourself" - by whatever means necessary. Like said queue of "helpful" folks, some jokes are waiting in the wings to hit you like a baseball bat to the face, while others are subtler and only really begin to take shape on the tenth viewing. Either way, the jokes are everywhere, and while some are more memorable than others, many of them remain quotable gems still used around the family dinner table today.

Running at the perfect comedic film length of 90 minutes, 'Flying High' follows war veteran pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays), who has developed a fear of flying due to a wartime trauma, but nevertheless boards a plane in an attempt to woo back his stewardess girlfriend, Elaine (Julie Hagerty, 'Marriage Story'). Unfortunately, food poisoning decimates the passengers and crew, leaving it up to Striker to land the plane with the help of air traffic control and Striker's former Air Force captain, who both try and talk him into a safe landing for everyone on board.

What I love so much about this film is its incessant drive to make you laugh. If you didn't find the last joke funny, rest assured there's another one coming up - or for the more impatient, there's probably a gag happening in the background simultaneously. The only downside is that you catch yourself laughing so hard at a joke, you inevitably miss the next one.

'Flying High' is unprecedented in its form, and while there are many parody films out there before and since, few can lay claim to being as funny, and arguably none can claim to be such a landmark. For all its silliness - and there's plenty - 'Flying High' is so clever in how it subverts the audience's expectation of a punchline, always catching the viewer off-guard and never quite landing where you expect. It plays with the audience and teases them, keeping viewers on their toes and landing their jokes with confidence and style.

The creative team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker knew they were funny, and perhaps the biggest display of the confidence they had in their material was casting Leslie Nielson ('The Naked Gun'), a straight-faced actor known predominantly for his dramatic character work. His deadpan expressions and earnestness lift the jokes to a new level, because as he says in his own words, "We know we're being funny, but you can't let the audience know for even one second we're being funny." Did he invent deadpan comedy? For the sake of this article - sure, why not. 'Flying High' works because every actor was a serious character actor, and the material makes them all out to be comedy legends. If there's a comedy out there that makes better use of its dramatic actors, I haven't seen it.

If there's one thing that makes comedy even funnier, it's dissecting it and discussing what makes it so funny in the first place. On that note, I will no longer be discussing why 'Flying High' is comedy gold, but I will share my favourite jokes from the film. If for whatever reason you haven't seen this film, use this as a teaser to whet the appetite enough to change that immediately. So, in no particular order, here are my top ten favourite gags from 'Flying High'.

The jokes are everywhere, and while some are more memorable than others, so many of them remain quotable gems still used around the family dinner table today.

You're welcome in the advance for all the future YouTube recommendations. Enjoy!

DR RUMACK MEETS CAPTAIN OVEUR
Our first glimpse into Nielson's comedy style, as he discusses the dire situation facing the flight. Includes one of cinema's greatest exchanges.

McCROSKEY PICKED A BAD WEEK
I don't think anyone expected sniffing glue to be a punchline for anything, but here we are. Not a great week for McCroskey.

PRESS TAKE SOME PICTURES
A pun to beat all puns. It's the pure simplicity of the joke that maintains its status after all these years.

DRINKING PROBLEM
Comedy works in the rule of three, so it makes sense that this gag gets funnier each time we see it. This is also one of the earlier jokes I can remember quoting as a kid for anyone who would listen.

WHAT'S THAT
Genius. Take my advice and use this joke whenever you can, because it lands every time - pun intended.

MIRROR VIEW
Another example of the vast array of gags this film brings to the table. It's not wordplay or a pun, but excellent and unexpected visual humour akin to Buster Keaton.

WE'RE ALL COUNTING ON YOU
Once again, they use the rule of three, and again that's what makes this work. The first time isn't even funny, the second is a great gag, the third lands it on my list.

AT LEAST I HAVE A HUSBAND
I didn't expect this one to make my list until my recent rewatch. Perhaps it gets funnier as you get older, or perhaps it's just another example of great jokes that fall under the radar - pun intended yet again.

GUITAR SING-A-LONG
The blocking of the turning faces gets you giggling, the knocking of the IV drip gets you laughing out loud, the pure obliviousness of the suffocation has you cackling with laughter.

GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF
I mentioned this one earlier, so it's no surprise to see it here. For me, it's a metaphor for how this film approaches its comedy. Shameless, unabashed, simple, and an absolute knockout.

FAST FACTS
AKA: Airplane!
RELEASE DATE: 02/07/1980
RUN TIME: 1h 28m
CAST: Leslie Nielsen
Robert Hays
Julie Hagerty
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Lloyd Bridges
Peter Graves
Lorna Patterson
Robert Stack
Jim Abrahams
Jonathan Banks
WRITER/DIRECTORS: Jerry Zucker
Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
PRODUCERS: Howard W. Koch
Jon Davison
Hunt Lowry
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